I figure that I’ll start doing something a little different. Every week, I’ll review a classic comic from my collection at random. Simple as that.
This week, I’ll kick off with the second appearance of Beta Ray Bill, Thor #338 from December of 1983, back when Jim Shooter was the EiC of Marvel. The art and story was also done by Walter Simonson, where he did Thor’s run from issue 337-367. Thor #337 was the issue which introduced Beta Ray Bill, meaning Simonson created him.
What intrigues me most about this issue is that we finally see someone who is not god-like, nor Asgardian, take on Thor. On top of that, we learn that Beta Ray Bill is Thor’s equal. In issue 337, Bill steals Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer for its power (which until Bill, could only be lifted by Thor), and by issue 338, he is teleported to Asgard via the hammer by Odin.
Odin, confused on how Bill holds Thor’s hammer, summons Thor back to Asgard to discuss Bill’s appearance and why Bill wishes to have Mjolnir. Bill explains how his race was dying and needed to leave their galaxy for fear of death. In doing so, his race’s scientists bio-engineered Bill and merged him with the most ferocious carnivore of their empire, so that he may lead their exodus. With his warship the Skuttlebutt, he must save his race from alien invaders. Since Bill bested Thor in battle (by stealing the hammer in the previous issue), he believes he should wield the hammer to save his people.
By all means, Bill is not shown to a man with bad intentions, nor a villain of any sort. He just wants to save his people. Because Mjolnir finds Bill worthy to wield it and Bill believes he deserves the hammer since he took it from Thor, Odin decides that they duel to the death for Mjolnir.
Odin strips both men of their powers and sent them off-world so neither have an advantage. Both warriors fight equal blows with each strike. Their final blow knocks both unconscious on a rock bed riding down a lava lake, soon to be thrown down a waterfall of lava.
Bill awakens first and sees Thor still knocked-out. Being a noble man, Bill feels Thor is too brave to perish and instead tries to lift him to safety, only to be too-late and thrown down the waterfall. Falling, Odin teleports them back to his throne room for Bill to state at the books conclusion, “The hammer is mine!”
The story itself is wonderfully paced, especially for introducing a new character. Simonson makes Bill not just a worthy opponent for Thor, but a just one. Bill’s main drive is to fight off invaders from his people and just requires a weapon to defeat them. However, I did neglect the extremely minor side story involving the Warrior’s Three during the epic battle. Although it did not throw off the pace at all, it shows Simonson’s flawless transitions between stories.
Simonson was considered to be the savior of Thor comics at the time for not just introducing Bill, but for great dialogue, and exposing emotions and truths behind characters. Mixed in with his powerful art, Simonson had great imaginative ideas to play with – generating a new race, a new hero, and a brilliant plot point involving one of Marvel’s greatest heroes.
When I look back at other issues from the eighties, I seem to find them lacking substance. They involve characters which seem to get dumb-downed to reach a larger audience. In Thor, we have intellect, mixed in with powerful morals, as well as an enemy we cannot hate. Arguably advanced for its target-market, this issue was a powerful indication that Thor is not the only major power in the universe.
By the next issue, Odin creates “Stormbreaker,” a hammer equal to Mjolnir, and gives it to Bill for being noble by saving Thor. Both Thor and Bill become blood brothers, and help one another in their most desperate times of need. Recently, Bill arrived to Asgard during the Secret Invasion – saving Thor from the Skrulls showing us that blood brothers stretch beyond realms.
Keep on Space Truckin’.